Growing up in foster care can be challenging, but many of the biggest problems foster children face occur after they age out of the system.
Among the sobering statistics: More than one in five become homeless, nearly three out of four girls become pregnant by age 21 and only half are gainfully employed at age 24, according to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national foundation that assists young people leaving foster care.
Two local chapters of the national nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, on Wednesday announced the creation of a program to help foster children prepare for the time when they’re too old to qualify for foster care.
Jackson County CASA Executive Director Martha Gershun described it as similar to the mentoring and life preparation children receive from parents in traditional families.
“These are youth who often have been in multiple foster homes,” Gershun said. “They have been moved around a great deal, and they haven’t had that consistent adult looking out for them.”
The CASA Transition Program for Older Foster Young will employ a case manager to help them find medical, educational and therapeutic services they can use as adults.
Children will begin working with the case managers starting at age 15. In Kansas, foster care services end when children turn 18. In Missouri, they end between the ages of 18 and 21.
Organizers say the program will serve about 75 foster children in Jackson County, Missouri, and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas in the first year. About 1,640 children are currently under court protection in the three counties.
The new program will also provide volunteer mentors to help aged-out foster youths through age 26.
Gershun said that she and Lois Rice, executive director of CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties, have already received positive feedback from the teenagers who will get the additional help.
“What we’ve found is that they are greatly relieved that someone is saying, at the age of 15, ‘I’m gonna stay with you for the next three years to get you ready,” Gershun said.
Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.